Stafford, Johnson heading towards record seasons
NOV 29, 2012 2:12p ET
They are on the verge of possibly making history — Johnson could break Jerry Rice’s all-time NFL record for receiving yards in a season while Stafford might become only the second quarterback to pass for 5,000 yards in a season twice — but this hasn’t exactly gone the way they expected.
The game is all about winning and scoring touchdowns, not who gets the most yards. The Lions are 4-7, seemingly out of playoff contention, entering Sunday’s game against Indianapolis. Johnson is tied for 33rd in the league with four receiving touchdowns, and Stafford is tied for 17th in touchdown passes with 14.
But in terms of yardage, they are tearing it up.
“Not bad for a down year, right?” Lions center Dominic Raiola said with a grin.
Not bad at all.
Johnson, 27, needs 592 receiving yards in the final five games to break Rice’s record of 1,848 yards set in 1995 with San Francisco.
To get there, Johnson must average at least 118.4 yards a game.
That won’t be a problem if he keeps up his pace from November when he had 32 catches for 619 yards and three touchdowns in four games. Johnson averaged 154.8 yards per game during that stretch, which earned him NFC Player of the Month honors.
“My game is keep on grinding like we’ve been doing,” Johnson said of being in position to surpass Rice. “Since people mention it, that’s in the back of your mind. “Keep doing what I’m doing. If it happens, it happens. That would be great.”
Asked if the team’s down season would take away from the record, Johnson said, “Put it like this, if it was to happen, it wouldn’t be hollow at all because of all the work we put into it. It would definitely be a feat for that to happen.”
Perhaps the most remarkable part of it would be all the attention that opposing defenses put on him week after week.
“Quite honestly, he’s getting triple-covered,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.
“That’s another thing that makes it kind of cool,” Johnson said. “It makes it that much harder, and would make it that much more enjoyable.”
What’s more, Johnson overcame a knee injury that often kept him out of practice earlier this month.
Johnson, who said he’s never met Rice, currently stands at 1,257 yards after 11 games. His career-best is last season’s total of 1,681.
The Lions’ club record of 1,686 was set by Herman Moore in 1995.
Stafford, meanwhile, can join New Orleans’ Drew Brees with his second 5,000-yard passing season. He also would be the first to accomplish it in back-to-back years after finishing with 5,038 yards last season.
Brees passed for 5,069 yards in 2008 and a NFL-record 5,476 in 2011.
Stafford needs 1,571 yards over the final five weeks to reach 5,000 again. That’s an average of 314.2 yards. He’s currently averaging 311.7.
The 5K mark has been achieved only five times in league history. The other times were by New England’s Tom Brady (5,235 in 2011) and Miami’s Dan Marino (5,084 in 1984).
“It would be awesome, as long as those come with good performances by our team and wins,” Stafford said of breaking 5,000 again.
Stafford, who leads the league with 3,429 yards passing in 11 games, also would like to be part of helping Johnson make history.
“That would be cool,” the 24-year-old quarterback said. “But he’s the same way I am. He wants that as long as we’re playing well and winning.”
While the passing yards keep on coming, partly because the Lions have had to play from behind so often, other parts of Stafford’s performance seemingly have taken a dip at times.
He’s completed 60.7 percent of his passes (19th in the NFL), down from 63.5 percent last year.
His touchdown-to-interception ratio (14 to 10) isn’t even close to last season when he finished with 41 scores and 16 picks.
The biggest difference, however, is that the Lions were 7-4 at this time a year ago and headed to the playoffs.
“I’m trying to do whatever it takes for our team to win,” Stafford said. “We haven’t done that enough. So I, obviously, haven’t done enough.”
Johnson is just as disappointed that the individual numbers haven’t led to more victories.
“We didn’t meet the expectations that we set for ourselves and probably the ones that our fans set for us as well,” Johnson said. “It’s been tough. We’ve got to finish off strong.”
If they do, they might get a double-dose of history.
Offensive tackle Jeff Backus, who missed the first game of his 12-year career last week because of a hamstring injury, returned to practice Thursday.
“He’s worked very hard,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “You don’t make it through all those games unless you’re tough and also have a good tolerance for pain. It was encouraging to see him move around a little bit today.”
Others who returned to practice included running back Mikel Leshoure (ankle), safety Louis Delmas (knee), defensive end Cliff Avril (back) and defensive tackle Corey Williams (knee).
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